The last of three columns on grading out week 1. So far we've seen higher than normal marks on offense, and lower than normal marks on defense. Special Teams is often a mixed bag, and though it doesn't receive much attention, it can accoutn for a lot of hidden yards or field position.
Mike Nugent - Let's get the obvious out of the way. He missed a field goal (way) wide right. He had another blocked, though that one is on the line. Through one game, our kicker is 0-2. That's not good. He was very iffy in the preseason, going 6/9. Now preseason means squat, but this isn;t the drastic turnaround we were hoping for. His other duties as the kickoff guy aren't going great either. His kickoffs generally are between the 2 yard line and -2 yard line (2 yards deep in end zone). This isn't the strong leg everyone thought we had, and in truth, is about 2-3 yards better than Byrant. A lot can change week to week, but Nugent needs to get it going here. Missing a field goal every week won't keep him employed for long. Grade: D+
Dirk Johnson - Doesn't show a very powerful leg. His punting average looks decent, but it's deceiving. His punts typically land in front of the return man and bounce forward, adding yardage to his punts. He had three punts that flew for less than 39 yards on Sunday, including one that looked to be mishit out of bounds just before halftime. His punts are lower than normal, allowing the return man some room before the gunners get downfield. It didn't cost us the game, but he's about 4-7 yards short on his punts (gross yardage) as compared to league average. That's about 30 yards of field position a game, based on 4 punts. Grade: C-
Clifton Smith - Looked nothing like the Pro Bowl guy from last year. He muffed a punt and didn't really have an open field opportunities as most kickoffs were blasted through the end zone. The few returns he did have, he seemed to head straight for the biggest pile he could find. Good news is, no turnovers and positive yardage. Bad news. Didn't seem to find the open field. One game, I'm not reading into it just yet. Overall, very average. Grade: C
I have to say, I was pretty let down by the special teams unit this week. Between Jerramy Stevens allowing the entire right side of the Cowboys line through to block a field goal, to Nugent's miss, Dirk's short kicks, and no explosiveness in the return game, I'd say it was a performance to forget. What makes it worse, is that while we don't knwo much about the 2009 Cowboys, the 2008 Cowboys had one of the top 4 worst special teams units (coverage). Maybe they improved or maybe we just didn't have it. 15 more weeks to improve, let's hope this is the baseline. Grade: D+